KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center just celebrated its 500th lung nodule case.

It’s an important procedure in the fight against the early detection of lung cancer. The procedure saves lives by looking at your air passages with a small camera at the end of a tube. The procedure allows the doctor to collect tissue samples from your lungs to diagnose lung cancer. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Routine screening and early detection are key to beating the disease.  

“Usually in heavy smokers, these cancers can be very aggressive, so only when we biopsy it is when we can find out, what it is and where it is spread. So that’s why early detection of lung cancer is of paramount importance,” said Dr. Varun Shah. Shah is an interventional pulmonologist at the Lung Nodule Program at Fort Sanders Regional. He uses a robotic-assisted bronchoscopy to find those nodules, or small masses, to determine if they are cancerous.

“If you have a nodule that looks suspicious, we will probably order more imaging studies to try to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Dr. Shah says the robotic machine is one of the best operating systems in the field and with it, since February 2022, they have drastically reduced their treatment of stage three and four cancers. Shifting to 85% stage one, giving patients a better outcome.

“Yes, unfortunately, there’s no way for yourself sitting at home to be able to detect this, and like I said, if it’s early stage, there’s not much in terms of symptoms. You may not have some of them, your symptoms may just be related to the COPD you have.

For us living in the South, the risk of lung cancer is higher.

“Unfortunately, we are in that belt with East Tennessee, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and northern Georgia. That territory where smoking prevalence is quite a bit where patients start smoking in their early teens.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer making up approximately 85% of all cases, according to the American Lung Association. 

Low-dose CT scans are recommended as your first step for lung cancer screening. They are generally recommended for people ages 50-77 who have smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years, have a history of cancer, or have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic substances. The scan can be done with your primary care doctor. Following that, a referral can be made to the Lung Nodule Program.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about lung cancer and ways to prevent it.